Safety & Security: Are We Safe?

Dartmouth College likes to give the impression that it is doing everything it can to prevent sexual assault on campus. With initiatives such as the Safe Ride program and the Bystander Intervention Program, we can assume that we live in a climate of safety, right? Wrong. The reality is that there have already been ten reported sexual assaults since January.

Last Monday, Dartmouth’s Department of Safety and Security distributed the Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report by e-mail. In compliance with the Jeanne Clery Act, the report compiles annual crime statistics, along with safety and security measures. In addition to the distribution of this annual report, the U.S. Department of Education also requires “any institution, regardless of whether it’s public or private” to “create, maintain and make available a daily crime log” which must be open to the public for inspection, according to the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting.

Reports of sexual assaults at Dartmouth vastly differ in the annual Clery Report and the Safety and Security crime log. According to the data from the Clery Report, in 2011 there were 15 reported incidents of sexual assault or “forcible sex offenses”. In 2010 there were 22, and in 2009 there were 10. However, the Safety and Security crime log presents a completely watered down version showing only 8 reported forcible sex offenses in 2011, 2 in 2010, and 5 in 2009.

According to Director of Safety and Security Harry Kinne, the numbers differ because the Clery Report includes allegations not reported to Safety and Security. At the end of the year Safety and Security compiles the Clery Report based on statistics obtained via various campus organizations. Thus, there are inevitably more sexual assaults that show up in the Clery Report each year than in the crime log.

Amanda Childress, one of the two Sexual Abuse Awareness Program (SAAP) coordinators at Dartmouth, says that in the past year, about 70 students sought services from SAAP each year after experiencing sexual assault either at Dartmouth or somewhere else. In addition to those 70 students, “about twenty or so secondary survivors, such as, friends, family members, or significant others” go to SAAP coordinators, according to Childress. However, in the Clery Report for the past three years the number of sexual assaults has not exceeded 22.

According to Childress, a student goes to the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program to seek resources. The job of the SAAP coordinators is primarily to provide a safe space for survivors. SAAP coordinators are “strongly encouraged” to report incidents of sexual assault if they hear about them, just like faculty or anyone else who works for the college.

“If a student reveals information about where the incident occurred and what type of offense it was then we can report those two basic statistics to Safety and Security. But we don’t need to know that information in order to provide them with assistance,” said Childress.

SAAP coordinators are technically health care professionals, which means that they must operate under confidentiality laws. Since the main function of their role is to support victims of sexual assault, they believe that asking for additional information may cause the victim distress. The role of the SAAP coordinators is primarily trauma counselors, not investigators.

So who is doing the investigation? Nobody? Why are there so many discrepancies in the numbers with no one hold accountable? The post-traumatic counseling of sexual assault will not be able to address these crimes alone.

The Clery Act further requires colleges to issue timely warnings to students and others when they are made aware of an on-going threat on campus. The Act is named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a 19-year old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986. Her parents discovered that students hadn’t been told about 38 crimes on Lehigh campus that had occurred three years previous to their daughter’s death. Maybe if she had known about the crime that had occurred on her campus, she would have locked her door. Jeanne’s parents persuaded Congress to enact the law in order to prevent crimes on college campuses.

I talked to the U.S. Department of Education who verified Kinne’s statement that timely warnings are only issued when there is an “on-going threat” on campus. But what constitutes an on-going threat? On February 21, 2012 all students received a warning email because of “a number of thefts of laptops”. On January 28, 2012 all students received an email because a female student reported that someone was taking iPhone pictures of her while she was showering. Comparatively speaking, shouldn’t a student rapist automatically constitute an on-going threat?

According to David Lisak, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and one of the leading researchers on non-stranger rape, “over 90% of all sex assaults are perpetrated by serial offenders”. Kinne knew of Lisak, but when I cited the study, Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists, he told me “a statistic isn’t enough to prove an on-going threat.”

The research itself, however, has been on-going for decades. Lisak has been studying sexual assault for the past twenty years. In a recent interview with the Star-Telegram, Lisak insists that “every report should trigger an investigation of that alleged offender. Who is the guy? What is his background? . . . Very often, what starts out as an investigation of a single incident turns into an investigation of multiple victims and multiple incidents.”

Of the five incidents of sexual assault that occurred this year, how many times has the campus been issued a timely warning? None. Kinne says that to determine if a reported incident is an on-going threat you need to assess the “totality of the facts.” Everything “depends on circumstances.” At one point he said to me “we need lots of specific info” to determine if there is an on-going threat. In almost the same breath he said “the risk goes down the more info you have” therefore not constituting an on-going threat. It seems that to determine whether or not campus should be notified that say, on March 14, 2012 there was a reported sexual assault at Alpha Delta (AD) fraternity, or that on September 25, 2012 there was a reported sexual assault in Judge Hall, Safety and Security needs both a lot of information and little information.

Who or what constitutes an on-going threat? When should Safety and Security be informing us of reported incidents of sexual assault? In the Star-Telegram interview, Lisak says, “if someone comes to law enforcement and alleges someone is pushing drugs, you do not just walk up to the drug dealer and ask him, Are you selling drugs? And if he says no, then just throw up your arms. What we do is investigate . . . This is what detectives do every day. But we don’t apply that sort of basic investigative procedure to these sexual assault cases.” Why do student rapists operate with such immunity? Why aren’t they considered an ongoing threat? If a rape happens at Butterfield or Gamma Delta Chi (GDX) fraternity (see crime log) we should know about it. We are entitled to know about it because we are entitled to our own safety.

Many college papers publish the information from campus crime logs on a regular basis. Dartmouth College has no publication that does so. The Department of Education’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting requires that “students and employees know that the log is available, what it contains and where it is.” It suggests “post[ing] a notice on your website, in your security office, in your student and employee handbooks or anywhere else it’s likely to be seen.” The log can also be “either hard copy or electronic.”

As of October 9, 2012, the only mention of a crime log on the Safety and Security website was a reference to an “incident log” contained in a BlitzMail Bulletin called “Safety and Security.” The page was last updated June 4, 2008 and the College no longer utilizes BlitzMail e-mail software. The most recent welcome letters from Kinne to new students and parents of new students make no mention of a publicly available crime log, while promising that “Dartmouth takes the issues of sexual assault, hazing, and the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption very seriously.”

This investigation reveals that student perpetrators are hardly ever considered an on-going threat to students and thus, campus rarely needs to be informed of a dangerous crime. It also reveals that the environment of talking about sexual assault is hush-hush. The message seems to be to seek counseling and get over it. Not seek justice through your legal rights in the court. Discourse on assault has continually focused on the issue of “underreporting.” However, the data is there, if kept obscured and downplayed in official databases.

On the American School Search Safety Report, Dartmouth is ranked as the sixth most dangerous college campus in the United States. They gave us an ‘F’ for campus security. You’re failing class, S&S, and so is the administration. Dartmouth has never been reviewed under the Clery Act by the Department of Education. Maybe it’s time for them to come.

This is one of a series of on-going investigations into sexual assault reporting at Dartmouth College.

~ by Dani Valdes

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